Guess who turns 31 years old today? Our very own Ji Chang Wook celebrates his birthday on 5 July, and Ji Chang Wook’s Kitchen sends along its wishes for a very happy day, with many more to follow! In addition, 5 July also marks our site’s third anniversary! Woo hoo!!
So in honour of this semi-momentous occasion, we have decided to post our joint review of Wook’s first starring movie, “Fabricated City.” We had been holding off until the movie had its last international premiere, so sit back and read away! (A few spoilers may be sprinkled throughout, so proceed at your own risk!)
In real life, Kwon Yoo (Ji Chang Wook) is merely an unemployed young man. But in the virtual world he is recognized as a top gamer with no rival. While playing as usual at a local Internet café, Kwon Yoo is stunned to learn that he has become the prime suspect of a shocking crime: the rape and murder of a high school girl. The police arrest him, and he learns that he has been framed by a large corporation for the crime. With the help of fellow gamer Demolition (Ahn Jae Hong) and hacker Yeo-Wool (Shim Eun Kyung), he sets out to uncover the truth and clear his name.
cherkell: Oh gosh, where to begin? Much rejoicing was done around the cherkell household when this project was announced. In his January 2015 interview with KBS’s ‘Entertainment Weekly,’ Wook had stated he wanted to act in all medias available to him: The musical stage, on television, and even though he’s had a few bit parts in past movies, now he finally gets the chance to star in his first feature film! *squeeee*
Gabby: It sure took him a long time to get a proper role on the big screen. I remembered feeling so cheated when I sat through the whole movie of “How to Use Guys with Secret Tips” just to see him in a cameo role, only to realise that he wasn’t going to appear at all because his scene did not make the cut. I’m also glad that he chose an action film because it’s one of my favourite genres, never mind that the story is not entirely new; I can name at least two Korean dramas that deal with a fugitive story. But having a familiar storyline doesn’t mean that it has no potential to impress. Anyway, I liked the premise of the movie.
cherkell: The film starts off with a beautifully-filmed action sequence, wherein Our Hero (Kwon Yoo) and his team of rag-tag gamers almost completely annihilate Teh Bad Guys in an RPG (role-playing game) where he is their leader named, most appropriately, “Captain.” Looking like he stepped out of a Guns & Ammo beefcake magazine spread, Kwon Yoo is more than ready to kick ass and take names.
But this is where the film took an unexpected turn by jumping back into real life – Kwon Yoo’s pretty shabby life. The juxtaposition of the gaming world to the real-life world was quite jarring to me, mostly because the film spent so much time in the beginning introducing us to the mercenary team headed up by Kwon Yoo that to see it was only just a video game (and which transition gave the movie a pretty big laugh right at the outset.) To his credit, Director Park continued the dark and lifeless tone of the film up until the time that Kwon Yoo is arrested for the crime he didn’t commit in order to keep the transitions between these worlds consistent.
Gabby: The opening action sequence was impressive and seemed on par with those in blockbuster movies from the West. I’m actually glad that the whole action sequence turned out to be nothing but a virtual game, because it was just too unrealistic. The director really succeeded in making that sequence look like something straight from a computer game or comic book. Depicting Kwon Yoo as a good-for-nothing guy makes him more relatable. I used to play a lot of video games when I was younger (albeit at home and not in the PC Cafe); I could play for hours on end, so I can totally relate to his lifestyle.
cherkell: Back in the day, I also used to frequent the computer cafes and got involved with a few RPG communities myself. Watching Kwon Yoo mow down the opposition brought back some wonderful memories of spending waaaaaay too much time at the keyboard and joystick, and not enough time on my studies. (Unfortunately, my only choice of snack foods back then were potato chips and soft drinks instead of yummy ramyun.) So I can see how disaffected Kwon Yoo was when it came to dealing with first world problems. No one feels happy about returning from a fantasy world where you are a God amongst others to actually live in another world where you are just an unemployed slacker.
Gabby: The virtual world (not necessarily gaming, but social media too) offers an escapism from the harsh reality by allowing us to present an idealised or “fake” image of ourselves online that is different from who we are in reality. I’m good at clearing challenges in role-playing games and coming in first in racing games, and I often wish that I was equally outstanding at work or at dealing with real life issues. I guess that’s one of the reasons why people get addicted to games. This is just one of the attempts at social commentary that the director does in “Fabricated City”, and I like that as it makes the movie more meaningful.
cherkell: At a few of the many screenings of “Fabricated City” I attended in Los Angeles, there were audible gasps from the audience over hearing actual swear words come out of Ji Chang Wook’s mouth. In talking with several folks after the shows, they were quite shocked to see him play such a dark role when all they were used to was seeing him act in television dramas… where obviously he can’t swear.
Gabby: But surely he swears in real life too right? Or rather, that’s what I believe. I wasn’t all that surprised because it wouldn’t be a Korean movie if there was no swearing. I’ve seen many Korean actors and actresses spew vulgarities in movies regardless of their usual image on TV, so it’s no longer surprising. I think Shim Eun Kyung’s swearing left a deeper impression on me actually, because I wasn’t expecting it.
cherkell: Of course he swears in real life; who doesn’t in this day and age? I found it interesting that some of my fellow viewers thought his character would be another continuation of one of his drama characters, all perfectly buffed, impeccably coiffed, and smartly dressed. So that is either a testament to (a) Ji Chang Wook totally immersing himself in this role so as to make himself look unrecognizable; or (b) the pre-publicity for the “Fabricated City” international releases was totally lacking and no one really knew what to expect for his Kwon Yoo character.
Gabby: I recall the director saying that the prison had some fictional element to keep in line with the comic-book approach of the movie, so the setting and brutality of the prison here could have been exaggerated. I’m not saying prison is a happy place, but I was watching the drama “Defendant” recently and felt amused by how different prison life was being depicted in both shows. The drama suggested that many prisoners are actually inherently good-natured people, whereas the prisoners in “Fabricated City” are downright BAD.
I know some people found the prison scenes in “Fabricated City” violent and brutal, but again, it wouldn’t be a Korean film without some blood and gore right? At least, most of the Korean films I’ve seen are like that. I’ve seen other Korean films with headless torsos, sliced fingers and blood gushing out of a sliced throat (recalls Park Bo Gum’s bloody death in “Coin Locker Girl” *sobs*), so I think the violence in this film is actually quite mild in comparison. The difference in censorship standards between Korean dramas and movies never fails to amuse me. If fans are used to watching Ji Chang Wook in Korean dramas, then it’s understandable that they will be shocked by what they see in Fabricated City. I’m just relieved that Fabricated City did not have any nude sex scenes though. Don’t think I’m prepared for that, yet. He can try out more challenging roles after his military service. Hehe.
cherkell: One of my initial forays into Korean cinema was watching “Oldboy” (from Park Chang Wook’s “Vengeance Trilogy”), so I don’t mind the blood and guts at all. In fact, I would have been more surprised if the certain scenes were not as graphic as shown. Still, some parts made me squirm even more than normal mostly because of their overt brutalilty. I was more interested in watching the prison scenes and trying to place names with faces. A lot of “Hey! It’s that guy! And that guy too!” was running around my brain. In fact, one of the bad guys near the end of the film had just played Jae-ha’s supervisor in “The K2” — as soon as his face appeared on screen, there were quite a few snickers from the audience! Including lots of cameos from many other recognizable film and television stars really kept the film’s pace lively.
Gabby: Thankfully, the “dark” parts of the story weren’t for long. The non-stop action in the second half was entertaining and the spectacular car chase towards the end with some humour mixed in between was my favorite part of the movie. We’ve read interviews where Ji Chang Wook spoke about how much time and effort they spent filming the car chase. Now that we finally get to see it in the movie, I think all that effort was all worth it. I found it quite satisfying to watch the good guys fight back against the baddies too.
Gabby: I found the movie entertaining as a whole. The story was generally fast-paced and had some twists and intrigue, but nothing too mind-boggling that will require you to watch six times to understand the plot. I appreciate that the director allowed for some brief moments for Ji Chang Wook to show off his skills at emoting (his acting was stellar when he was crying over his bowl of rice), and also for keep the romance negligible to avoid straying away from the main plot.
cherkell: Heh, what does that say about me who watched 14 screenings over 5 days? I wanted to make sure that FabCity’s first overseas release had some decent box office receipts. And I also was glad that FabCity didn’t need any lovey-dovey scenes interjected just for the sake of having a romance-line with Yeo Wool. That would have been way out of line for both characters. But at least after given the epilogue scenes, we can then imagine after the credits end whether or not Kwon Yoo and Yeo Wool did get together after going through hell and back again.
Gabby: I liked the poetic narration at the start and end of the film, because they made the film more…well, poetic. It sets you thinking, because you need to figure out on your own how the poem relates to the film. Not sure if everyone interpreted the narration the same way as me, but I think the poem about the rotten tree was referring to the character growth of Kwon Yoo and his friends in the film from gaming addicts (rotten tree) to people who changed the world (a tree that bears fruit).
cherkell: When I first heard the recitation of the poem “Tree” in the previews, I couldn’t figure out why that specific poem was chosen to explain the premise of “Fabricated City.” After a few viewings, it made you think, “Yes, that perfectly summed up the beginning and end of Team Resurrection’s journey throughout.” The fact that “Tree” was included made me go back and research more of poet Cheon Sang Byeong’s translated works. (Who said action movies are pure drivel and not educational?) And for those of you that missed the broadcast, Kwon Yoo’s “Tree” narrative at the beginning of “Fabricated City” was featured as the opening segment for this year’s Baeksang Arts Awards. Impressive!
Gabby: It was a pity that the movie totally left out the backstory of the villain, which resulted in a rather one-dimensional character. The movie would have been better if we were shown how and why he became a villain. Although the villain was not revealed immediately, it wasn’t very hard to guess who was the bad guy either.
cherkell: Agreed. Even with a 126-minute film, some of the more tedious prison scenes could have been snipped in order to reveal why the villain went over to the dark side; who were the players pulling his strings, etc. It had been mentioned in other reviews that the deus ex machina motif was quite overused… or would that be dei ex machina, since there were so many in play at one time? A confusing point for me was why the script decided to feature a couple of colour. Was it merely a plot point, or was it another one of Director Park’s ways of interjecting some his brand of social commentary about Korea’s lack of diversity and intolerance toward non-Koreans? Gotta give those two bit players some credit, though; they gave the film a nice levity break (and a few extra plot points) when it was sorely needed. (Funny that I used to own a ‘piece of crap’ Daewoo car just like that one. *hee*)
cherkell: Granted, “Fabricated City” wasn’t without its flaws, but they were not glaring enough for me to say Nopes! to watching it. It’s not “Citizen Kane,” people. That’s not what Director Park intended to translate to the big screen. The post-production editing to include the CGI took a little over 12 months to complete, and the efforts show just how detailed throughout — the “rice scene” was talked about quite a bit on discussion forums for months thereafter! “Fabricated City” is a wild ride with just enough pathos and humour to keep the film from becoming maudlin. I highly recommend it for its technical prowess and all-around entertainment value. And of course, Ji Chang Wook. *squeeeeee* 8.5/10 from me!
Gabby: Fabricated City is definitely not Oscar or Cannes material, but it is good enough as an entertaining action flick where you just sit back, watch the action, and munch on your pop corn. All the cast members — many of them familiar faces — did a good job at acting. While the story did try to convey some message about power differences and injustice in society, some parts could be better with a little more depth, especially with regards to the villain’s character development. This movie definitely scores high in entertainment value, but falls short in storytelling. I will be doing injustice to other award-winning Korean films out there if I were to give a score as high as what cherkell gave. 6.5/10 from me!
Credit: Stills courtesy of TPS Productions and CJ Entertainment-Korea